Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi's announcement a few days ago that laws are finally in place for a Sex Offenders Registry represents only a first step—in all likelihood just a baby step forward—in fully establishing a system to name and shame sexual predators.
As of now, it is not possible for citizens to access the registry simply because it is still being developed and populating it with the necessary information on individuals convicted of sex crime requires a painstaking, possibly time consuming, process.
However, with the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2019 in force as of January 31, T&T now has a legal framework to properly develop and consistently enforce a system that will make it much more difficult for sexual predators to hide in plain sight as they have been able for far too long.
This is a nation, sadly, where sexual violence and sexual exploitation are major problems. While often eclipsed by the out-of-control murder count, sex crimes, particularly against children, are at worrying levels and the T&T Police Service (TTPS) recently confirmed that there has been a marked increase in such offences.
In fact, at the weekly TTPS news briefing last Wednesday, it was revealed that for the month of January 29 people were arrested for a total of 44 crimes, mainly against children.
In other parts of the world where Sex Offender Registries have been fully implemented, they have proven to be effective tools in reducing the rate of sex crimes. They have been particularly effective for tracking the whereabouts of predators who cannot so easily blend into communities where under the cover of anonymity or aliases they can seek out new victims. With the existence of a registry, their names, addresses, photographs and details of the offences they have committed are available.
This will be a valuable additional resource, particularly for making background checks on individuals seeking housing or employment in areas where sex offenders should not be given access.
But this registry needs to be full operationalised sooner rather than later. Any delays in implementation only leave loopholes for the sexual predators among us who have been targeting children, women and the elderly.
According to data from the Ministry of the Attorney General, between 2000 and 2019, a total of 1,693 people were convicted of sexual offences in T&T. All of their information now needs to be collected, verified and listed in the registry, along with information on T&T nationals convicted of sex crimes abroad who should not be allowed to slip back into the country undetected.
This monumental but essential task, along with full enforcement of other clauses in the amended legislation, will make this country much safer for its most vulnerable citizens.